The Oscars are finally requiring nominees for the Best Picture award to have inclusive and diverse casts and crew, but these standards don’t go far enough.
Watching movies has been my favorite activity for as long as I can remember. My all-time favorite movie is “Jurassic Park.” But no matter how much I loved a movie, or how many dinosaurs were involved, it was never anything more than just a story on a screen, never an immersive experience, and for the longest time I never understood why. Now I realize it was because I had no representation in it. After all, how can I be fully immersed in a story I clearly do not belong in?
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released representation and inclusivity rules for a film’s eligibility in the Best Picture category Sept. 28, which require a film to fulfill two of four standards: Standard A (on-screen representation), Standard B (crew inclusion), Standard C (industry access inclusion) and Standard D (marketing inclusion). At first I was excited to finally see that movies will finally have the representation I wanted, but after researching these standards more thoroughly, the excitement faded. Although some of the standards are as demanding as creating an entire story surrounding an underrepresented group, others are as simple as giving a lead or supporting role to such an individual.
These new requirements allow movies with almost completely white male casts like “The Irishman” to qualify for Best Picture, due to an inclusive crew. Although it is great that these movies have some diversity in their crew, a diverse and inclusive cast should be mandatory for all films to be qualified for Best Picture, especially since a list of names in a movie’s credits does not provide much representation for a viewer. Additionally, the academy should make Standard A mandatory since the new requirements are called the “representation and inclusion standards” and having three out of the four standards focus on inclusivity is not doing the name justice, especially since it allows filmmakers to completely ignore representation. If a movie lacks representation it clearly tells me two things: the film doesn’t care about underrepresented groups and underrepresented groups are not important. Minorities watching the movie, including me, are left feeling that the movie was not meant for us, which is regrettable because a movie should bring people together.
So if the Oscars make Standard A mandatory, do these requirements successfully achieve their purpose? Not quite. Since Standard A is the only standard that focuses on representation audiences can see, it needs to be stronger by requiring two of its criteria to be met, like in Standard C. This is necessary to prevent films with only one supporting character from an underrepresented group from qualifying. It’s amazing to see a person from an underrepresented group play an important role in a movie, especially if they have the same identity as me. However, constantly seeing minorities play supporting roles in movies tells viewers that people in underrepresented groups are nothing more than supporting characters in the real world.
If the academy makes the requirements to qualify for Best Picture as demanding as I suggest, the creative elements and stories told by filmmakers will be limited, but that is a good thing. These requirements are only for Best Picture. A Best Picture should be more than just a story; it should be a film that has the capacity to influence society as a whole, which is not possible without complete representation. Complete representation means an accurate and respectful representation of a group, such as a character that can have characteristics from their culture and still be seen as an equal, instead of based on stereotypes. Additionally, complete representation is also an accurate representation of the diversity found in society, as opposed to the solely white crowds we see on screen. As Academy President David Rubin said, “[we] must widen to reflect our diverse global population in both the creation of motion pictures and in the audiences who connect with them.”
Despite my initial disappointment after fully reviewing the new requirements for the Best Picture category, I still think the Oscars are heading in the right direction. I want to see these standards evolve in the future. These new standards will help filmmakers realize representation and inclusion are not something that will harm a film’s creative freedom. It is harder to not fulfill the requirements.
A Best Picture needs to encompass all the greatest attributes of films and have a lasting impact on society, whether it be through a call for political change, social justice or a challenge to the boundaries of science. Without representation and inclusion it is impractical that a film would have the capacity for that lasting impact.